Fast Times in the Pacific Northwest
At this year’s Northwest Wall & Ceiling Industries Convention and Trade Show, its award program that showcases the most important projects of the past year had some very impressive projects completed by quality-driven contractors. Easily one of the firms that walked away with awards numerous times and displayed a company’s ambitions would be without a doubt, Western Partitions Inc. For those of you that need the introduction: WPI performs metal stud framing, drywall and finishing, insulation, firestopping, acoustical and wood ceilings, weather barriers, plastering, spray applied fireproofing, intumescent fireproofing, exterior cladding systems, fiberglass and vinyl windows, doors, frames and hardware, commercial painting, industrial painting, load bearing framing systems, prefabricated wall and building assemblies. That’s a great deal of service.
The company is headquartered in Portland, Ore., but also has an office in Eugene, Ore.,; Seattle and Spokane, Wash.; and Reno, Nev. The company has been in business for 45 years.
“My father was a carpenter in the late 1960s,” says President Victor Roach. “He started the business with my mom in 1972. My sister and I joined in when we got out of high school/college.”
From there the history is quite remarkable: A multi-state licensed subcontractor that has flourished to an onslaught of 1,000 employees, along with all the accolades of success through capital, resources, equity and growth in every sense of the term. All the more reason for WPI to be named and introduced as this year’s cover stars for the annual Top 50 Contractors feature.
Greatness Comes From Hard Labor
“Our first year of business in 1972, we did about $40,000 in revenue,” says Roach. “We did about $180 million last year and are on track for $200 million this year. The growth has not always been the slow, steady kind. Many steep growths and drops have occurred in the several economic expansions and contractions that we have experienced over the years.”
As the man says, business is hot. Certainly one of the company’s finest hours was showcased at the aforementioned NWCB annual event, with WPI taking home three top awards. As of midway through the year, WPI has the good problem of having to turn away work.
“We are just starting our international business,” says Roach. “We hired an experienced manager who has done work for the U.S. government overseas for over a decade. We are just getting set up to do this work. It will include the specialties noted above and other miscellaneous carpentry.”
Of course, no one should be mistaken that during these better economic times any company is just putting the feet up on the desk and acting like spoiled rock stars: This devotion, drive and manpower takes considerable planning and talent to pull in the mentioned figures from this year and past.
“For as successful as this year is for WPI, the economic conditions are still challenging,” says Roach, self-confessed lover of both the Beatles and Stones. “We have been experiencing labor shortages, which has been a significant negative impact. Not only are we having trouble finding enough qualified help for our work, but also many of the other trades are in the same boat. Thus, compounding the results on many projects.
However, for its headaches and challenges, Roach says he loves seeing large, complex projects being built, constructed piece by piece.
“Most people on the street have no idea how complex an operation this is,” he says. “I call it a mobile manufacturing plant that is building a different product every day with new team members being added or removed all the time with ever evolving design. This seems much more interesting to me than say shuffling papers in a law firm—no offense to attorneys.”
One of the awards at this year’s NWCB event was the University of Portland Willamette Boulevard Student Housing. The scope of the project for WPI was construction of a new 100,000 square foot student housing project with two stories of light-gauge load bearing wall construction on top of one story of post-tensioned concrete. The second and third floors, wall and roof sections, were panelized offsite and craned into place. The first floor walls were stick framed. The company was contracted to install the load bearing framing; non-structural framing; exterior sheathing and weather barriers; drywall and insulation.
Owner: University of Portland.
Architect: Soderstrom Architects – Portland
Structural Engineer: KPFF Consulting Engineers
General Contractor: Skanska
Materials and suppliers FOR this project included: CWallA, L&W Supply, GTS Supply, Allied Building Products and Spears Construction Supply.
God forbid the next downturn, yet Roach says that hopefully the company’s pre-fab business and multiple-scope coverage will give it the edge to compete. In addition, WPI will look very carefully at the risk of each project and not follow lower and unrealistic prices to the bottom. Better to not have a job than to lose money doing it, he says.
According to Roach, what sets WPI apart is the broad and numerous scope of projects it takes. He says this is obviously very challenging to do so many things. Yet, he says the company markets itself as being able to take away some of the pain from the builder by managing so many things for them. WPI works out problems in-house so the contractor doesn’t have to spend time or money “refereeing.”
The company also started in-house drafting and BIM a few years ago, where there are six full-time employees in this department. Roach says the company may bring engineering in-house next. These departments provide faster and more accurate results for its clients, which is an advantage.
“In addition to our work, I think the main thing that makes us a great company is our culture. Sure, we fight and argue amongst ourselves at times,” says Roach, “but for the most part, we all generally like to work together and promote that family feel, even though we are a pretty large company. We like to bring food in and have parties and just have fun. Our headquarters and some of our branch offices have party rooms with bars.”